David A. Davis
November 27, 2016
Our kids are in their twenties now. Yesterday they were just babes in my arms. When I hold a baby here at the fount during a baptism, I have been told that I rock back and forth the way I did with my own children when they were infants. Some have heard this from me before but back then when I was trying to calm Hannah or Ben, trying to get them to sleep, in addition to that rock and a bit of bounce, I would sing to them. You would think the minister would be singing hymns, right? Well, there was some of that. But I also sang college fight songs, a lot of college fight songs! “‘Ray Bucknell, ‘Ray Bucknell…” “10,000 men of Harvard seek victory today…” “Fight on, State…” [Hums “Notre Dame Victory March.”] To this day, I wonder if my kids get sleepy when they hear college fight songs.
Another trick of mine was to offer a more guttural, basso profundo, vibrating sound to give comfort, sort of grunt from deep within the chest like this (aah, aah, aah, aah, aah). It was exactly like that. It was always the same. The same cadence, the same tone, the same number of aahs. And to be honest, it worked pretty well most of the time. There wasn’t much thought to it, not a lot of planning or rationale, probably more tired desperation at first. Me, trying to do my part. Hannah was a few weeks old before my parents made it from Pittsburgh for that first visit. The college fight songs and the “aah, aahs” had already started. It was sometime in the first moments of their visit when Grandma was eager to take a turn, I heard my mother with Hannah in her arms, and she sounded like this “aah, aah, aah, aah, aah.” I guess there was more to it than I thought. Me with a child in arms passing forward a sense of comfort, safety, and rest that had been offered to me. That kind of refuge has to rest deep within.
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” Our dwelling place. Our refuge. Our help. Finding refuge, finding a dwelling place in the one who is from everlasting to everlasting. “A thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like watch in the night.” Nestling in and finding a place, a dwelling place in the divine expanse of God. The one whose wrath could overwhelm us. The one whose countenance illumines all our sins. The one who draws us in to that magnitude with mercy and compassion. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love so that we may rejoice and be glad all of our days.” “You have been our dwelling place in all generations.” Dwelling place. A kind of refuge that is deep within.
I officiated at a memorial service here just the day before Thanksgiving. During worship, three granddaughters shared memories of their grandfather from up here at the pulpit. Right before the service, I invited the various speakers to gather for a sound check. It wasn’t much of a sound check. Folks were already in the pews for the service so the family members felt a bit awkward. As one of the granddaughters stepped back down from the microphone, she said “It’ll be okay… just like when I sat here for the Christmas pageant,” and she pointed to a spot right there on the steps. It was just a few years ago that she stood there on the floor as I officiated at her wedding. And she is expecting her first child next month. In every generation. In every season of life. Here. Here. Here. It doesn’t sound like the most profound of faith statements, does it? “It’ll be okay.” Sometimes abiding in God is less about sounding religious and more about something deep within. God our help, our refuge. Our dwelling place in all generations.
This coming Wednesday afternoon is our annual Advent/Christmas gathering of the youngest among us and their families, two-, three-, and four-year-olds. You can find it in the bulletin there in the calendar for the week. We descriptively and lovingly call it “Wee Christmas.” It could easily and perhaps more appropriately be named “The Unquestionably Hardest Work Dave Davis Does All Year.” You can picture it. I tell the story, all the children have a part. It’s a flash-mob, pop-up pageant for twos, threes, and fours. Six Marys. Four Josephs. Eight or so Magi. Shepherds. Sheep. Angels. By the end I will be huffing and puffing and sweating. Long after the families are in the Assembly Room having dinner, I will be here in the Sanctuary all by myself, taking deep breaths and recovering.
Let me offer one more title for Wee Christmas. How about “Arguably the Most Important Ministry Dave Davis Does All Year.” Sharing the story of the birth of Jesus in a way those children can take with them and maybe never forget? Creating a memory, shaping an experience that will find a place way down deep. Telling a story about God’s love and the baby Jesus and Mary and Joseph, planting a seed that God will nurture. Joining hands with Church School teachers and youth group advisors and grown-ups in church, so that a few generations from now one of those kids here on Wednesday can stand up at her grandfather’s memorial service and say, “It’s going be okay.” Sharing with families in the priceless responsibility of helping their children know and feel and grow in the love of God, nesting within them somewhere deep, instilling something that is far beyond words. That, for them, for all of their days, God is their dwelling place. “Hark! The herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king!”
A long time ago I was in a group of pastors attending a retreat kind of thing about clergy spiritual health and balance and developing skills for the long haul of ministry. At one point we were being led in a guided mediation. The leader was talking us through a time of reflection with questions and images and inviting us to see things in our imaginations. It’s not the kind of practice that comes easy for me, but I was trying. At one point, after a few deep breathes and with our eyes closed, the leader invited us to return to an actual place where we had been, a place where we had experienced a moment of rejuvenation and peace, a spot that was life-giving. “See it and hear it and smell it,” the leader said. “Everyone needs a way to hit the refresh button even when you can’t leave the office.” The takeaway was to find a place where we could imaginatively return in moments of prayer and meditation to draw on some of that healing and wholeness. We were specifically told it didn’t have to be ministry related or even religious. My spot was a chair at the shore, late on a summer afternoon with my feet in the water. The rest of the family already called it a day. The beach has started to empty and nothing is between me and the vast ocean, the lowering sun to my back, and only a good book to keep me company for just a few moments. Maybe it wasn’t my kind of process but I can’t tell you how many times I have been back to that spot over the years, been to that spot that’s now deep within.
Everybody needs a way to hit the refresh button. That sounds like Advent to me. Telling that old, old story. Singing songs from way back. Lighting candles on a wreath and proclaiming faith, hope, joy, love, light. Creating memories. Shaping experiences. Remembering other seasons of life. And settling in, nestling in with the sure and well-worn knowledge that the Lord is our dwelling place. Our refuge. Our help. See it. Hear it. Smell it. Reach down deep. A sense of comfort, assurance, and rest. “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
Our dwelling place. The Lord is our dwelling place. The promise rests deep within. Part of what that means is that the promise is beyond words, or it comes without words, or it is pre-verbal. (Aah, Aah, Aah, Aah Aah). The writer Kathleen Norris in an article in Christian Century once lamented how many preachers and worship leaders never met a word they didn’t like. After going to worship at a particular church for several weeks, she wrote, “what struck me most forcibly… was the sheer quantity of verbiage. It felt like a word bombardment, and I often needed a three-hour nap to recover.”
This Advent promise, the Advent refresh, starts without words. The kind of reassurance that comes in the embrace of two life-long friends who had been apart for far too long. Words can’t express, just tears. The kind of reassurance that comes when you sit next to your mom’s hospital bed holding your father’s hand. “It’ll be okay,” is all you can say. The kind of reassurance that comes when that young child sits in your lap while you hold a lit candle and wish the singing of “Silent Night” would never end. The kind of reassurance that has to come when you draw way down deep and honor the Thanksgiving dinner host’s request to not talk about the election. Deep breaths, no words. The Lord is our dwelling place. The Lord is our dwelling place. The kind of reassurance that comes when a season of life, maybe this season of life, seems overwhelming or fraught with challenge or just plain new and different and you find yourself searching for those moments and places of rejuvenation and peace, needing to claim God’s life-giving, life-saving promise. The Lord is our dwelling place. The kind of reassurance that comes when you sit at the table, the Lord’s Table, and the words you hear are “Body of Christ broken for you… Blood of Christ shed for you.”
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
It’s the first Sunday of Advent. How about hitting that refresh button.
© 2016 Nassau Presbyterian Church
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